Self-knowledge Helps an Author Create Characters

Do you put people you know in your books? 

Most writers are asked that question. Robert McKee (author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting) talked about this question in his presentation at the Chicago RWA convention in 1999. I recently found a copy of the tape and listened to it again. 

Writers watch people, McKee said. They gather material through observation, assembling characters from the bits and pieces of people around them. Sort of like Dr. Frankenstein creating his monster. 

More importantly, writers find characters in themselves, because the only person they can truly know is themselves. We understand other people the more we know ourselves, because we’re all fundamentally human. McKee points out that if we are thinking it or feeling it, then others are experiencing it too. Self-knowledge is the key to all great writing. 

Okay, I’ll buy all that. I don’t have one person in mind when I create a character, but I admit to putting myself into each one of my characters. 

I am working on a series for Resplendence Publishing called
Bluegrass Reunions.
(They thought the boys they loved were out of their lives. They were wrong.) 

In KENTUCKY COWBOY, hero Judd Romeo deals with the death of his mother, much like I dealt with my mother’s death in 2004. In KENTUCKY WOMAN, heroine Alexis Marsden is a single mom, like I was once. She will do anything for her son, including marrying for convenience. Again I create a single mom heroine in KENTUCKY FLAME, this time divorced. Been there, done that! Aimee Elliott, the heroine in the yet to be written KENTUCKY BRIDE, is an only child like me. 

So you can see there’s a piece of me in everything I write. Here are more details about my series from Resplendence Publishing. 

KENTUCKY COWBOY— She dumped him in high school because he was a risk-taker.
“Warmhearted and wonderful… Kentucky Cowboy is a keeper.” — Bestselling Author Joanne Rock
Winner—2006 PASIC Book of Your Heart Contest, Contemporary Series Romance

KENTUCKY WOMAN— She had his brother’s baby, but never forgot him.
Winner—2007 San Diego RWA’s Spring Into Romance Contest
2nd place—2007 PASIC Book of Your Heart Contest, contemporary series

KENTUCKY FLAME—She had his baby, but he left not knowing the truth.Available June 2, 2009 

KENTUCKY BRIDE—She can never be sure if a man loves her for herself or for her father’s millions. 

Jan Scarbrough

Self-knowledge Helps an Author Create Characters

13 Responses to Self-knowledge Helps an Author Create Characters

  1. mammakim

    Jan, the series looks awesome. I love to people watch 🙂

  2. Julie Eberhart Painter

    Absolutely, Jan. I use what I see and hear, in restaurants and elsewhere. I used to make what we called comfort telephone calls to the bereft. I live in a community where people “winter.” Many times they will move here to retire from all over the USA and from other countries. This gives me a unique toolbox of “voices.” I never use their names or situations, but oh those colloquial phrases and accents.

  3. Tina

    I think it makes the characters jump of the pages when you know more and are closer to what you are writing.

  4. Pam S

    Jan, what a great post.

    I think that it helps character development so much more and readers appreciate it.

    Your series sounds so awesome – I can relate to alot of those (am divorced, single full time mom and only child). I will definitely have to put them on on my list to go get.

  5. Valerie

    This is an interesting post. I’m sure that authors must have a wonderful time people watching…lol!!


  6. Carl

    Read the latest study on self knowledge get a copy of The Power of Self Separation.

  7. Mona Risk

    Jan, I am like you, putting a piece of me or people I know in every book. Nice blog, Jan.

  8. Jan Scarbrough

    Thanks everyone for stopping by. Devon, you’re right about the therapy. LOL!

  9. Fran Lee

    You are one of the finest Romance writers I have the privilege of calling friend.

    Great books, Jan!

  10. Victoria Janssen

    Do you put people you know in your books?


    If elements of real people happen to show up, it’s unconscious.

  11. Devon Matthews

    Terrific post, Jan! I think all of us unconsciously inject our own backstory and baggage into our writing. It’s better than paying for therapy, right? :o)

  12. maddie

    I do study people, their mannerisms, dialect, phrases they use, etc. Sometimes something just pops into the character from something I’ve observed along the way and it’s perfect. I love when that happens. I think I also put a bit of me in my stories, as well. I’ve never really based a character on a real person (unless it was Blackbeard!) but I love to meld characters together from bits and pieces of people I know. Great post, Jan. And I love those reunion books!

  13. Amber Skyze

    I agree, Jan. There’s little pieces of me or situations that have affected my life, in the books I write. Great blog.

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